Death By Popularity

“I firmly believe that respect is a lot more important, and a lot greater, than popularity.”  Julius Erving

This post might unsettle you – so advanced warning. Just my opinion. The rest of August I’ll be chiming in with many other provocative opinions about the web and education.


This last year, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the new power of social networking and what that means for education. Especially in light of seeing more and more educators participating – blogging, commenting, tweeting, facebooking. In a word – sharing.

But sharing is a double edge sword. It has to be authentic and purposeful. Supported by community. Otherwise, it is just a lot of noise and a black hole into which an ego can tumble down and get lost within. Let me explain.

It all begins with the “Share” or “Like” or “retweet” buttons. These are great ways for a community to share what’s valuable. The trouble is that it has become a popularity contest – our focus has been lost as educators. I truly believe so.

It’s become all so high school. And with so many people liking everything and everyone – where does the center hold? How do you know what is valuable, useable, 5 star, stellar? Further, the liking becomes about short, trite comments, a kind of education by “yippee” and “yahoo” , a shouting.

And then there are social streams notifying you that you are promoted, highlighted, honored! I just got one.  How much the ego is at play and tickled.

I’ve been SNing for a long time and I’ve seen the evolution. Nobody wants to offer a considered reply or slow down and read. It’s all about hitting the LIKE button. Nobody evaluates materials much any more. It is just let’s tweet it and hope for a zillion RTs! All the intelligence has drained away from online communities. It is all about speed and popularity. Is that education? Is that professional development? It’s true, onnline communities and blogs that really try to expand discussion, collect and curate materials, they are dying. It’s death by popularity, by like button.

But my main point is not that “liking” erodes discussion. No, the disease is much worse. The biggest problem is that it erodes the impulse from which things are created. Materials are no longer created of love and an inner impulse. Discussions, essays, posts are no longer shared truly because they are “valuable” but rather for their power to promote self, to be “RTed” and “liked”. This is why the invasion of “like” into our professional discourse is so potentially ruinous. I would never have done even a thousandth of what I have online – if I was looking to “be popular” and get a rep. But I see that out there – its an energy and I’m fearful of it.

The future even looks bleaker, once the marketing people starting paying you for your “liking”, “+1ing” and “RTing”. It’s right around the bend and I’ve read a number of reports on this income stream. Check out “FanSlave“. Hell, you can even set things up to get automatic likes/rts right now!

I’m not saying the sky is falling. I’m really saying we all need to rethink how and why we share/like stuff. We also have to go back towards the trunk/core of what being an educator online is. Go back to deep community and commitment to those communities. Not the scattering and wiping away of the sky that is circles, fb or twitter. These are tools but we should meet, discuss, promote, think together elsewhere than the high school dance.

That’s my unpopular take. Is anyone else out there, feeling the same?

PS. please don’t “like” this!

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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